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Coffee Donations A Reminder of Alberta’s Generous Nature

coffeeLast week’s random mass coffee donations that started in Alberta (and quickly spread across the country) said something great about our province. It demonstrated the genuine and selfless generosity of people in Alberta. Now, of course, that money may have made a greater impact had it gone to a worthy nonprofit organization, but that doesn’t make the gestures any less generous. These anonymous coffee donations serve as a reminder that while there is always more to be done and room for improvement, Albertans are a giving people – whether it is a cash (or in kind) donation or contribution of volunteer hours.

According to the 2010 CSGVP, Albertans contributed an average of 140 volunteer hours and $562 in donations in 2010. Those are positive numbers, but the really encouraging trend is the steady increase in the rate of volunteerism among Albertans from 2004 (48%) to 2007 (52%) to 2010 (55%). Alberta’s population currently sits at 4 million people, with the provincial government projecting that it will swell to 6 or 7 million by 2041. That means demand will certainly rise for services provided by Alberta’s nonprofits, but if the promising upward trend in volunteerism continues we will meet the challenge.

A donation of 500 cups of coffee doesn’t directly address any of the social problems the nonprofit/voluntary sector is currently focused on. However, it serves as a reminder that Albertans care about one another and that the people of Alberta possess a powerful spirit of giving. This spirit of giving will be tested in the coming years, but there is reason for optimism for Alberta, its nonprofit sector and its most vulnerable citizens.


Tim Henderson, Office and Communications Coordinator

Alberta’s Community Spirit Endures Flood

saddledomeAlberta has always been a community of volunteers, whether that is formally or informally. The last 10 days have been no different.  The devastating floods in Southern Alberta have caused an outpouring of support and help; the Volunteer Alberta office even got a few inquiries from people wanting to volunteer.

I wanted to share one particular story that helps put to rest the famous Edmonton-Calgary rivalry, which has all but dissipated since the flood. Well, at least until hockey starts again.

The day the flood began marked the beginning of the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, a weekend long independent festival hosted by various venues in downtown Calgary. Within hours of the festival being officially cancelled, organizers in Edmonton stepped up to host bands and would-be festival attendees in a new event called Shred Island.  A one night event turned into a weekend long festival featuring 30 bands and hundreds of attendees all thanks to donated venues, food, alcohol and time.

Video: Sled Island Documentary Trailer

While this event didn’t ease the difficulty of those directly affected by the floods, displaced ticket holder passes were honoured at the Edmonton venues. It gave the bands that travelled across Canada to attend Sled Island the opportunity to still play a show and generate some revenue and provided a morale boost and a moment of normalcy for attendees.

For information on how you can help those affected by the flooding in Southern Alberta, visit the Government of Alberta’s flood website.


Lisa Michetti, Member Engagement Manager

Guest Blog: Volunteerism has changed – but have nonprofits changed with it?

“Volunteering is on the decline.”
“Young people are disengaged.”
“People are abandoning community.”

I heard versions of these same concerns while delivering workshops last week in three very different communities.

While on the surface many would believe these are valid issues, personally I’m not buying it.

I’m not buying it because everywhere I go, in addition to these concerns, I’m also hearing that people are hungry for a sense of community and for being connected to one another. And, despite not always being involved, they very much do want to give back to their communities.

Could it be that it isn’t people who are abandoning community, but rather, communities abandoning people?

As my good friend Ian Hill puts it, volunteering has changed but communities and nonprofit organizations haven’t always changed with them.

He’s so very right.

Hill points out that volunteering is in our DNA because it used to be obligatory and essential.

When people first settled in Canada, if they didn’t volunteer to help one another clear the land and build their homes and barns, they simply wouldn’t have survived.  If they hadn’t banded together and shared their respective resources, they wouldn’t have been able to respond to the need for roads, churches, schools, parks, and other community services.

In essence, people worked together to implement a collective vision for their community, worked side by side to complete the required activities, and shared the resulting victories. Along the way, they built relationships, trust, and ultimately — a sense of community.

Following World Wars I and II as we strove to become more civilized — or at least what we saw as being civilized — we outsourced the work, hiring other people to deliver the services and build the roads, churches, schools, and parks that used to be done by volunteers.

When it became clear that volunteering could no longer be dictated as being essential to survival, people were often shamed or “guilted” into serving their community. For instance, many of my parents’ generation were raised to feel it was part of their moral obligation to give back to their community.

Today, it seems we’ve lost the experience born of both the dictated, shared experiences of sweat equity volunteering, and of being guilted into volunteering.

Ultimately that means we’ve lost the trusted relationships cultivated by volunteering, as well as the understanding and importance of both community and community building.

The fallout of this is that we have become a pretty cynical bunch.

Since we no longer have dictated shared experiences and volunteering is no longer seen as obligatory, we’ve ended up living in communities where although we might have connections with those who share the same interests, we don’t have trusted relationships and a sense of belonging. Instead, we are asking, “Why should I be involved in my community?” and are challenging community groups to prove to us that their initiative is worth our time, talent, and treasure.

If we aren’t convinced the volunteering is worthwhile, we may be seen as being apathetic or disengaged when it is likely more about the fact that we don’t know and trust one another.

Unfortunately, the majority of community groups have failed to adjust to this reality and still believe they can dictate the experience rather than having it dictated by the user. Too often this means that while community groups have a cohort of mature volunteers, they aren’t being augmented with new recruits.

So what do we do?

Everyone who wants to engage someone as a volunteer needs to begin by investing time and energy into  building relationships — face to face, one cup of coffee at a time.  The intent is to focus on discovering and putting to work what Hill calls, the “irrational passion” within each of us, and to give the potential volunteer the choice for how it can be applied.

The world is full of educated, experienced, talented people who care about their communities, and are willing and wanting to contribute.

Citizens young and old are seeking meaningful, relevant, time-specific projects that will allow them to dictate the experience and be paid — not with money but with meaning.


Brenda Herchmer,

CEO of Campus for Communities of the Future
Owner of Grassroots Enterprises


If you are interested in contributing to the VA blog as a Guest Blogger, please contact Tim at thenderson@volunteeralberta.ab.ca

Vital Signs Reports on the Quality of Life in ‘The Gas City’

Another year has gone by and the Community Foundation of Southeastern Alberta has reported on the quality of life in Medicine Hat and surrounding areas. The Vital Signs report and its findings were presented at the Medicine Vital Signs Lunch Event. At this year’s luncheon, Twitter played a central role in the conversation surrounding the report. The panel, made up of Medicine Hat’s social media gurus, helped lead the discussion and point out some interesting facts. The following are facts and figures from the report:

  • According to the lifestyle and recreation data, Medicine Hat spends less per capita on recreation than other municipalities in the area, which might help explain our high obesity rate of 24.2%. Medicine Hat also experiences a high rate of individuals over the age of 12 who identify themselves as smokers. These numbers are puzzling given that many clubs in Medicine Hat, like the Kinsman, offer free skating in the winter and free swimming in the summer. Across the city, you can find numerous parks, water parks and walking paths available to the public! KidsSport is another wonderful option to help keep children active, regardless of parental income. I will leave it to health professionals to explain why our community is so unhealthy overall!
  • Feel like you need a Mexican get-away to enjoy the sunshine? You may be surprised to find that Medicine Hat is among the sunniest places to live in Canada.We rank second for sunniest days, but also score in the top 5 for hottest summers, driest climate, and most days without rain! People have been known to shovel snow in t-shirts because the sun is blazing during the winter months.
  • Over the years, average income between men and women has differed greatly and this year is no exception; there is a $29,000 gap. Men are surpassing women in wages across the province, and often, even when women are doing the same jobs as men. This is something that has always bothered me.
  • Ending homelessness has been the focus of many organizations in Medicine Hat since 2009. In the first year, 270 individuals and 150 children were re-housed, or diverted away from homelessness. In the second year, 114 individuals and 40 children were lifted out of homelessness! The community members and organizations dedicated to this cause deserve an endless round of applause.

I could go on and on about the interesting facts and figures in this report! My blog would never end. Our city received no conclusive rating, but the Vital Signs report gets an A+ from me!


Amanda Liepert

Knowledge Exchange Coordinator (South Region)

There Are Penguins in Grande Prairie

Source: Antarctic Photo Library. United States Antarctic Program.

I recently took a quick trip to beautiful Grande Prairie, or “GP” as the locals say, to give the keynote address at the first Non-profit & Social Purpose Expo hosted and located at The Community Village.

The theme of the talk was The Power of Community. In the weeks leading up to the event, I spent my usual post-work walk home mulling over the approach I’d take. Would I talk about Martha Parker’s ideas around managers and directors of volunteers becoming “strategists in community engagement”? Or I would I speak about the 2011 State of the World’s Volunteerism Report and the common global values regarding volunteerism? Although both of those topics interest me (among others), the one idea that made the most sense to me was to talk about Emperor Penguins.

To be clear, I’ve never paid much notice to penguins, I have always considered them cute, quirky birds that dress well, but after seeing the movie March of the Penguins I had a new found respect for Aptenodytes forsteri. While reflecting on the movie I came to the conclusion that these penguins can teach us something about the power of community.

First, what are the similarities? Penguins and humans are both social animals, survive harsh winters and like to summer by the sea, are large and flightless, are mainly monogamous, and look good dressed up. How penguins endure, survive and thrive in their environment is where the lessons can be learned about the power of community. As a side note, when I refer to community I am talking specifically about a community of nonprofit/voluntary sector organizations that operate in the same community trying to improve said community. Without going into a lot of how penguins live (you can look it up on Wikipedia like I did) let’s just say Emperor penguins have chosen a tough path to survival and have chosen to band together during the toughest times.

So, what are the lessons the nonprofit/voluntary sector can learn from these birds:

1)      Survival depends on working together – Without each other, penguins would not be able to stay warm. Without other nonprofit organizations, no one would be able demonstrate their importance. It is a community of organizations that truly has the most impact.

2)      We are all trying to nurture something we care about – For penguins it is their eggs, and for organizations it is the cause, broader community, clients, volunteers, and employees we aim to nurture.

3)      Not everybody makes it– Despite our best efforts, sometimes environmental stresses and ever so slight missteps claim victims. No matter how difficult it is when a fellow organization fails or flounders, it is the larger community’s responsibility to show resolve and continue on to set the example of what is possible.

4)      It is worth the time, effort and energy it takes to work together as a community – In the end it’s about building a stronger community with more to offer and a brighter future, working together guarantees it.  Penguins hatch chicks, organizations get stronger networks working together to more effectively hatch positive community outcomes.

5)      When it feels cold and lonely that is the time to come together as a community – Penguins could chose to do it on their own rather than, literally, huddle together. Nonprofits should think the same way. When resources are low, and the future seems bleak, that is the exact time to look to your peers and find the opportunities to collaborate and find creative solution to common challenges.

There it is. Penguins demonstrate the power of community and, if nothing else, it is a strong image to remember. So, the next time you are feeling yourself out alone in the nonprofit world, think of the Emperor Penguins huddled together staying warm and surviving. It should at least inspire to reach out and connect to your nonprofit community.


Annand Ollivierre

Program Manager

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